First Question: It is said that Marx’s concept of revolution, will not stand up to the new facts of industrial society. It has become an anachronism; it no longer has any constituency. The working class, in Marx’s opinion the historical subject of all future social upheavals, has dissolved itself as a class; the desire to establish a qualitatively different social order has given way to the need for better working conditions, more leisure time and more material goods. In these circumstances, the old theory of revolution, which articulated the economic misery of one class and taught the oppressed to speak, has become impotent and unrealistic; it has turned its back on reality. Anyone talking of revolution nowadays is surely contributing to a mystification?
Marcuse: The idea of revolution is in fact never a ‘mystification’. As a whole the existing situation has always been bad: a force resisting the real possibilities of overcoming misery and inhumanity. The fact that revolution no longer has any identifiable ‘constituency’ and no organized movement on which it could depend does not remove its necessity. But does it really have no ‘constituency’ today? Neither the ideological veil of pluralist democracy nor the material veil of extravagant productivity alters the fact that in the realm of advanced capitalism the fate of man is determined by the aggressive and expansive apparatus of exploitation and the policies interwoven with it. The civic rights that are permitted and administered in this system of domination do not diminish the violence of an oppression which has made the world a hell. At the moment hell is concentrated on the battlefields of Vietnam and the other sacrificial lands of neo-colonialism. Of course humanity is concentrated there too: not immediately, in the guerrilla struggles, which meet the horror of the conqueror with the horror of defence, but, via many mediations, in the opportunity to define the inner limit of the system given to those who in their extreme poverty and weakness have for years now kept the richest and technologically most developed destructive machine of all time in check. I say ‘inner’ limit because there is no longer any outer limit to the global system of advanced capitalism; because even the development of the socialist countries, despite all the contrast in their relations of production, responds to the pressure of world competition and the needs of coexistence. But any romantic idea of the liberation front is incorrect. Guerrilla struggle as such does not present any mortal threat to the system: in the long run it cannot resist a technological ‘Final Solution’. The system reserves for itself the right to decree whether and when it will achieve ‘victory’ by burning and poisoning everything. The ‘Final Solution’ in Vietnam would be the final consolidation of the power of capital, which would further extend its interests with the help of dictatorships of the military and of property, and would force the socialist countries into an increasingly debilitating defence (or into powerless neutrality).
This tendency can only be broken if the resistance of the victims of neo-colonialism finds support in the ‘affluent society’ itself, in the metropolis of advanced capitalism and in the weaker capitalist countries whose independence is threatened by the metropolis. (I will come back to the opposition in the metropolis in my answer to question 4.) In any case, in the capitalist countries of the European continent the precondition for the efficacy of a serious opposition remains the political revitalization of the working-class movement on an international scale.
Second Question: One of the striking aspects of our time is the gradual mutual convergence of capitalism and socialism. In both systems advanced industrialization has altered the social process and the methods of production. To the extent that technology determines the course of things and the social relationships of men, relations of domination can still be defined only in technological terms. Power lies with the apparatus which administers social labour and organizes its adaptation: domination, translated into manipulation, can hardly be recognized any more as political and economic domination. Each person acts in good faith, from his own desire to act in response to general pressures. The conception of freedom, by which revolutionaries and revolutions were inspired, has, so it seems, been taken out of circulation in modern capitalist and socialist states. Has the concept of freedom finally lost its revolutionary force in the ‘managed mass society’?
Marcuse: The ‘gradual mutual convergence of capitalism and social-ism’ has found its expression in the cliché concept of the ‘technological society’ or the ‘developed industrial society’. The usual indignant criticism of this concept is itself ideological. It should no longer be necessary to emphasize that it is not technique, but the social organization of the productive forces that determines the difference between social systems. But it appears necessary to repeat that the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and collective control of them does not finalize this difference, particularly when this control is exercised by a working class whose needs and aspirations are dominated by imitation of and adaptation to needs engendered by the capitalist system. Coexistence with advanced capitalism is driving the socialist societies into a life and death competition—into a competition in which the development of the productive forces and of social needs is to a large extent subordinated to politico-diplomatic and military exigencies. Thus, here as well as there, technique is becoming a means of oppression built into the process of production. As such, technique, which has not yet been turned into a means of liberation, prescribes definite modes of conduct within and in relation to the apparatus of domination—here as well as there. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the opportunity for liberation lies where the means of production have been socialized. The political economy of the socialist countries needs peace, not aggressive expansion.